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There is no ‘I’ in sugar

Excuse this crabby little rant, but I’ve started reading The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer and the author’s repeat a misstatement I’ve come across several times in just the past week, writing Belgian brewers often use “candi sugar.”

No the don’t. They mostly use what we call plain old sugar.

Yes, there are historical references to “candi sugar” and a few brewers use a product called by various names that include “candy” but they are not at all like the rocklike hunks sold as “candi sugar” in the United States.

Nope, when you taste a brooding beer like Nostradamus from Caracole that’s barley malt and about 15 percent sucrose. I’ve been to the brewery. I’ve seen the big sacks of sugar. They look a lot like the bags of plain white sugar at Westvleteren (which also uses a dark syrup). The whole sugar/syrup thing can get a little dense, so since rather than clutter this space I’ve posted a sugar primer at Brew Like a Monk.

So back to my rant. This matters because:

– What makes Trappist ales and beers they inspired special is not a secret or special ingredient.
– The brewers add sugar for a practical reason — not because of any flavor the sugar might contribute — to boost the level of alcohol yet deliver a beer that isn’t sweet or cloying. Put in positive terms the beer should be “digestible.”
– It’s an adjunct. And that’s not bad.

Phil Markowski, author of Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition an brewmaster at Southampton Publick House, puts it better than I:

“I believe that there is still a fairly prevalent anti-adjunct bias among many American brewers, both amateur and professional, that makes them hold back from using enough sugar to achieve the same level of dryness that the classic Belgian examples exhibit. It seems that many of these brewers tend to think of adjuncts as ‘dishonest’ ingredients.”

They’re not, so let’s call them what they are.

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